Day ten: new-determination, near-death experiences and nicer-days ahead!
If I thought the conditions had been challenging (mentally, physically and emotionally), as I made my way up the North West coast of England, I’d underestimated the resolve of their intent. Tired from the ascents and descents of yesterday’s Cumbrian quest, I set off from Gosforth with renewed vigour but was met with equal defiance from the elements lying in wait to greet me – namely Scotland!
Not so ‘bonnie’ Scotland…
A bracing 60km on the bike, mostly climbing again, brought me to Skinburness on the English coast of the Solway Firth, where I receive a chilling welcome to our Celtic neighbour’s lands. This kayak was another of those ‘marginal’ decisions – but this time, I was determined not to turn back. Had I made different calls on the previous two crossings I might have turned away from this one, but I had to show the wind and the rain that I meant business and where better than on these ancient northern waterways.
It was perhaps bad timing for a renewal of my belligerent determination because the wind-driven advancing tide, hiding its numerous sandbanks just below the surface, was busily mixing up high waves and choppy conditions. Not ideal for kayaking!
The crossing was a full 15km, the longest of the whole adventure, and at every stroke, I was hounded and harassed by side-on white-water attacks. Half-way across I even experienced a rare moment of genuine apprehension (possibly even verging on the edge of fear). That was not a reassuring or welcome emotion; nor one that I was used to experiencing.
It all comes back to why?
When I talk to people about my experiences on this journey and during the build up before reaching the starting line, they usually ask ‘why?’ As I’ve mentioned before, there are many answers to this question and the ones I give depend largely on the tone in which the ‘why’ was asked. There is the charity angle and wanting to give something back; the opportunity to see so many wonderful places and do things most people rarely get to do, but most of it is to satisfy a hunger within! I don’t really know how to explain it, and I believe that only those who share something similar can truly understand it, but I just need to know how far I can go – to get a handle on my limits.
This crossing took me close to that point!
Will Smith once said, “You might have more talent than me, be smarter than me, be sexier than me… you might be better in all categories than me. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things that are certain: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.” And that sums up my attitude to any challenge I ever face (except the ones where a promise to Penny overrules it).
Across the other side, as I emerged from the waters and trudged through the last 20 metres of mud while dragging my kayak behind me my mood was at a new low, and any humour that I had left was poor. Tony had been talking to some onlookers on the far side who had gathered to welcome me back to wet land. I’m ashamed to say I was a degree less than civil to them as I emerged… If they are reading this now – “Sorry!”
My last glance back as I left the Solway Firth behind me revealed a sign saying, “Danger – strong currents, hidden channels, swimming not advised.” Not the first, nor the last, time I had seen ‘late’ a sign that I would probably have ignored anyway.
Welcome to the West coast of Scotland
I had expected to finish the crossing in around an hour and a half, so the three hours plus that it actually took put a few time pressures on the rest of the day.
Despite all of that, it was good to set foot on Scottish soil and know that I had reached that milestone at last. Another little victory and a strong step towards my bigger goal. My reward for still loving Scotland despite its harsh initial greeting, was some lovely countryside for the subsequent cycle, swim and run which completed day ten; and it even brightened up a little later in the afternoon.